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South Africa's early World Cup exit

The horror, the horror

The World Cup knockout-phase monkey stays infernally glued to South Africa's backs for another four years

Robert Houwing

March 27, 2011

Comments: 32 | Text size: A | A

AB de Villiers shakes hands with Daniel Vettori after the defeat, New Zealand v South Africa, 3rd quarter-final, Mirpur, World Cup 2011, March 25, 2011
AB de Villiers was batting like a dream, but his run-out turned South Africa's campaign into a nightmare © Getty Images

The short- to medium-term future seems bright for the South African cricket team, whether you are talking the limited-overs formats or Tests. But a very solid chunk of their support base won't give the proverbial continental about that right now, either burying their heads in their hands in misery, or in more strident cases spewing out a stream of unflattering mantles - some of them will begin with the inevitable "c", I'm sure - for Graeme Smith and his stunned troops.

As a forlorn outgoing captain, Smith himself conceded after the World Cup quarter-final defeat to unfancied New Zealand in Mirpur on Friday, they will simply have to "take it on the chin".


It will be little consolation, too, that a limited yet gritty, hang-in-there outfit like New Zealand are increasingly regarded as good "tournament" material, while South Africa are somehow more accomplished by a mile as a bilateral "series" team.

Yet this particular South Africa squad had seemed to have just about everything at the ready in the quest to knock that theory for six; seemed to have covered so many crucial bases for the task of excelling at a World Cup on the subcontinent.

And for a few weeks, just for mundane record purposes now, they pretty much did. Even as he accepted the Man-of-the-Match award, New Zealand allrounder Jacob Oram described South Africa as "a damn good side".

Much, much earlier in the trial-by-patience contest at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, ESPNcricinfo's sharp-minded UK editor Andrew Miller had tweeted: "A bit of mystery in the spin department is what SA have been crying out for since readmission. They look frighteningly complete now." Just not quite complete enough, alas, to go all the way to World Cup glory at long last.

Why, even a maiden appearance in the final would have represented progress: instead the abject curse continues - this was its fifth ruinous visit - of South Africa never having won even a sole fixture in the World Cup knockout phase.

"Your guess is as good as mine," said poor "Biff" as Mark Nicholas, handling the televised post-match presentation ceremony, asked him (not the most opportune moment, though it was always coming, eh?) for possible reasons for this stark failure.

In a valiant attempt to be upbeat, Smith suggested that "in future [the team] might challenge the perception [of frailty] and get over the line". Sooner or later, it will. You would think it has to! The country has bright prospects in abundance to accompany its established, indisputable pool of world-class players. Imran Tahir has been a breath of fresh air, while we probably have not yet have seen the very best of Lonwabo Tsotsobe, JP Duminy, Faf du Plessis, Morne Morkel, Colin Ingram, David Miller and others, who generally boast ample time on their side.

But for the moment the post-mortem period, something South Africa's World Cup critics and observers are so used to grappling with since the bogey first reared its head in 1992, cannot be avoided.

How ironic that this South African team, so much more harmonious, I believe, and so much more dynamic, daring and versatile, than the class of 2007, actually tripped up one hurdle earlier than the side who turned out back then. That's cricket? Phew, she's a tough old cookie, in that case.

How ironic that this South African team, so much more harmonious, I believe, and so much more dynamic, daring and versatile than the class of 2007, actually tripped up one hurdle earlier than the side who turned out in the Caribbean

Smith led South Africa well in his ODI captaincy swansong here - sometimes outstandingly, many of sober mind will concur. The man has a phalanx of detractors (and it was forever thus) yet he won plaudits from all sorts of people, not least several of the star-studded international TV commentary team, for the new spirit in which he, and by extension his men, mostly kept the opposition guessing through flexibility, enterprise and courage of conviction.

I am pleased for him, in many ways, that he is gradually unbundling the cares of leadership, which may mean he can address more studiously the gremlins that wriggle up to an irksome degree in his own game. For in truth, perhaps in the underperformance at the crease of senior statesmen Smith (particularly) and Jacques Kallis lay at least one notable cause - not a whole lot else went wrong, when you think about it - of South Africa's exit at the last-eight juncture.

On the pitches of Asia, these were the sort of men, sporting so much street wisdom between them, who needed to bat through as often as possible, just making it that much easier for a team tally of 240 to become a 290, a 285 a 325... or even, ahem, a 172 to turn to the altogether more blissful sanctuary of 222.

And yet it never happened, in seven appearances apiece, even if Kallis had a better excuse as he fought cobwebs from a relatively long-term injury preceding the tournament. Smith struggled palpably for rhythm in his opening slot throughout the tournament, averaging 26 and never exceeding 45 in a single knock. He may have a fight on to keep his ODI berth as a rank-and-filer. Kallis averaged 32, but only flickered as the merciless accumulator everyone knows he can be, and his best innings was 69. Oh yes, and both "got in and got out" on the grim day they ran into New Zealand.

Doubts about the "bottle" of the national team when the chips are really down will be aired anew, like the forest fire that suddenly earns fresh lustre with the changing of a wind. The sniggerers will stay all a-titter.

Still, I don't believe this South Africa group, who overwhelmingly gave it their all and then some, deserve a rotten-tomato welcome home. Let's be gentlemen and ladies. Let's all take it on the conk, just as GC Smith and company are having to. And move on. Or at least bloody try to.


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Posted by   on (March 29, 2011, 21:37 GMT)

Every team has a cracking point when under pressure. The SA cracking point seems to come when they come close to beating a good side in a close game. Suddenly it all gets too hard. It's an odd mix. They seem to relish the contest, but baulk at winning it.

Posted by PROTEAFAN on (March 29, 2011, 20:31 GMT)

Hindsight's a perfect science, and now everyone says we should have had a longer batting line-up. What we needed were batsmen at the top of the order who inspired confidence and built the kind of platform that the middle order could work with. Unfortunately, Smith was horribly out of form, Kallis had gone back to his old ways of eating up balls, and Amla was just plain unlucky. Look at how Sri Lanka, who have a long tail, take resposibility at the top, and understand why we lost that game. Both Smith and Kallis were out to rash shots, and it's just iunforgivable for Smith to blame the batting in the middle overs for the loss, as he did in the post-match press conference.

Posted by BellCurve on (March 29, 2011, 14:44 GMT)

When the tournament started, the bookies were giving SA a 14% chance to win the tournament. In other words, the bookies were giving SA an 86% of not winning the tournament. That's all that has happened here. It's disappointing. It's anoying. But it's sport. (In rugby SA can count their lucky stars. They have won the world cup 2 times out of 4 attempts. Over time, it all balances out.)

Posted by UNIVERSAL_CRICKETER on (March 29, 2011, 9:28 GMT)

Big tournaments require experienced & strong temperament players......SA had more talented & flashy players but less battle hardy.........NZL had less talented but more experienced & sturdy players who didn't panic in crunch times........SA erred in omitting Boucher & Albie Morkel, who was indispensable for CSK in IPL......arrogance can not be a substitute for experience & temperament......

Posted by diri on (March 29, 2011, 5:16 GMT)

For close to 20 years SA has had bad luck at world cups. its unbelievable!!! but i believe SA has a destiny to fullfill.......everything in life happens for a reason and SA has had to go through a hard time but when they finally win the WC they will win many many more and dominate world cricket for years!!!!!

Posted by harshthakor on (March 29, 2011, 3:56 GMT)

It is significant to note that it has not always been the best team that has won the World cup but the team with the best temperament,degree of professionalism and match-winning killer instinct.It is these very qualities that enabled India to prevail over West Indies in 1983,Australai to beat Pakistan.England and India in 1987 and Palistan to overpower England in 1992.South Africa were arguably the bset team in 1996 and the unofficial champions in 1999 but simply lacked the mental tenacity and killer instinct.Infact in the 1990's had a record of being unbeaten in tournaments until being upset in the final.

In this edition they were the best team but again their nerves got the better of them.Their batting relied too much on Kallis and Devilliers and they needed to play one more batsman at 5 down.

Posted by harshthakor on (March 29, 2011, 3:46 GMT)

I can't express how sorry I feel for South Africa who are just destined to lose the World Cup.They were the moral champions in 1996 and 1999 and deserved to win the 1999 title where they were eliminated on technical grounds after a tie.They wee the most balanced and most consistent side in this tournament till they capitulated against New Zealand.It was the same lack of match-winning killer instinct and temperament in 1996 and 1999 that saw their downfall.These were the very qualities which enabled past champions like West Indies,Australia,Pakistan,Sri Lank and India to capture the title.No team has been as unlucky or deserving of the title as South Africa.

This is further evidence that it is not neccessarily the best team that wins the world cup like India in 1983 or even Australia in 1987 or Pakistan in 1992.It is the side that has peaked at the right time that has clinched the title and only West Indies and Australia have been the moral world champions.

Posted by gouthamkotera on (March 28, 2011, 16:26 GMT)

"How ironic that this South African team, so much more harmonious, I believe, and so much more dynamic, daring and versatile than the class of 2007, actually tripped up one hurdle earlier than the side who turned out in the Caribbean"

Its not ironic. tournament format last time was such that the firs knockout match was a semi final and we all know SA is very good at making it to the KO stage but not getting past it. better luck next time Proteas.

Posted by sedna on (March 28, 2011, 15:25 GMT)

You cannot win games with 4 batsmen and 7 people who can also bat. Atleast the 4 batsman should have taken ownership to finish the game. Smith/Kallis/ABD/Amla - Thats it.. Out of this amla was unlucky, ABD was unlucky - Kallis and Smith should have played safer. C'mon 4 runs an over and you cant finish the game yourself. Hopefully this is a lesson for all other teams who will be chasing.

Posted by damnhomie_1 on (March 28, 2011, 14:03 GMT)

OK can someone please explain it to me as 1 thing, as everyone has somehow failed to acknowledge that why was SAfrica playing with 5 genuine bowlers which Kallis, Duminy and Faf in squad as well. After reading countless no of articles and this 1 as well, I am still shocked how come everyone has skipped the issue which I have been wondering about since the toss. They had a ridiculously long tail and only 5 genuine batsmen. Look at teams like Pak which only has 3 genuine bowlers. Does Smith think he cannot even get 10 overs out of Kallis(one of the best), Duminy and Faf(a good alrounder). Oh btw I am not a South African but a very confused cricket fan

Posted by Maddy1337 on (March 28, 2011, 10:51 GMT)

It is frustrating to see a team like South Africa bow out so early and in that fashion...people will continue to consider them as chokers...they somehow falter in the big games which is bizarre considering the class of players they have..AB De Villiers is probably their best batsman and was really unlucky in the way he got out..Smith Duminy and Kallis are probably the actual chokers in side...they should have been finalists this time but again have fallen short

Posted by   on (March 28, 2011, 10:49 GMT)

Yeah its true & very sad that a team like SA dint make the cut. they truly deserved atleast a place in last four,if not d final two, but for some strange reason[i think trying too hard mentally to erase past memories],they got knocked out. But look at the team, they have got age & class on their side & certainly should dominate world cricket for quite will be good for SA to forget this at the earliest. Last not: feel really bad for a player like KALLIS. He was desperate to have WC on his CV, but missed out somehow. This tournament was seen as a fare-well for four world class players[kallis,murali, ponting & sachin] , of whom two already had won WC, Kallis has missed. HOPE SACHIN REALISES HIS DREAM.

Posted by popcorn on (March 28, 2011, 10:37 GMT)

Mark Boucher's experience, compared to Morne Wan Wyk?

Posted by popcorn on (March 28, 2011, 10:34 GMT)

If there is one team that even the opposition would not have grudged them winning the World Cup 2011 for their superb allround balanced skills,it is South Africa.

Posted by DaisonGarvasis on (March 28, 2011, 10:23 GMT)

It's not chocking or anything. They continuously fail to turn up a good performance with good finishing touch in the Know Out games. This SA team was the best balanced, batting, Fast Bowling, Spin Bowling and Fiending and yet couldnt make it. Cant call it Chocking but mere unlucky.

Posted by Nduru on (March 28, 2011, 9:33 GMT)

Well said Robert. I feel rather sorry for Smith and his boys as I think they deserved to go further and I think they gave it their all. New Zealand are their hoodoo team though, and so it proved again.

Posted by KB101 on (March 28, 2011, 8:38 GMT)

A well-written article, putting into words what most of us battered and bruised supporters are feeling. I'm devastated but yes, let's be gentlemen and ladies about this, try to be grown up and put those rotten tomatoes away folks! Sorry guys, we lost (again-sigh) but let's move on. Again.

Posted by SSRajan on (March 28, 2011, 6:20 GMT)

Aargh!! indeed.. I can't figure out a reason.

Posted by   on (March 28, 2011, 5:59 GMT)

AB looks like he is at a funeral, and Vettori looks like he is feeling empathy for AB, wheareas minutes earlier he (Vettori) had been the mastermind and executioner.

Posted by Rahul_78 on (March 28, 2011, 4:18 GMT)

Just one name...'DAVEY JACOBS'..bring him on. SAF need a leader made of steel more then anything else....!

Posted by   on (March 28, 2011, 4:08 GMT)

It happens when you Pack team with too many bowlers. Except Hashim Amla, Smith (who even used to bowl occasionally) and AB Devilliers (WK), rest all could bowl. Could easily have picked one spinner less for a batsman like Ingram. Going by logic of India and Pakistan, they could have taken by Ingram at 7 and story could have been diff.

Posted by Chris_Howard on (March 28, 2011, 3:59 GMT)

Worst World Cup ever. The final 8 should never be a knock round. Commiserations to SA, Australia, England and WI who never got a second chance, nor even got to play each other. How is it possible that this is a "world" cup, yet the best in the world never played each other - e.g. Aust didn't play SA, WI or England; SA didn't play Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Australia; England didn't play Aust, Pakistan or NZ. Yep, worst World Cup ever. Commiserations to SA. I still consider them the best ODI team in the world and if the final 8 system had've given them a second chance, they would have proved that.

Posted by bobagorof on (March 28, 2011, 1:54 GMT)

The author certainly likes to use metaphors and cliches, doesn't he!

Posted by   on (March 28, 2011, 0:06 GMT)

@ Robert Houwing, My dear Mr. Houwing, I am a South African supporter of long standing, in fact, I support all kinds of sport, your dramatisation of the Proteas exit from the world cup, is so sad, it is difficult to stay interesting when reading it all. I might remind you the super human All Black rugby union team find it very difficult themselves to win a world cup, and yes, I have not heard this kind of soppy reporting when they have time and time again exited the rugby world cup. The world cup, in the format that it is played will always see teams leave when perhaps we expected them to go further. It is not the only way we judge teams and their abilities, in fact it would be a very strange thing if any one in the last 10 years would have judged the cricket world cup winners, as being the best side in the world, other than Australia. The teams has ongoing competition by touring all around the world, and that is where South Africa got their ranking from. It is good enough for me.

Posted by straight_drive4 on (March 27, 2011, 23:38 GMT)

i dont agree with smith changing the bowlers every over and "not allowing the batters time to settle" because at the same token it doesnt allow the bowlers to settle.

Posted by InsideHedge on (March 27, 2011, 22:04 GMT)

Well written, it couldn't have been easy.

Posted by JaneJosephene on (March 27, 2011, 20:12 GMT)

Great team having worst fate ...

Posted by Pickwick on (March 27, 2011, 19:58 GMT)

An Indian fan, I love this SA team and it is heart-breaking to see their exit and worse to see them tagged again with the chokers tag. These guys are too good for that label, give credit to the tigerish performance by NZ instead.

Posted by nskaile on (March 27, 2011, 17:43 GMT)


Posted by   on (March 27, 2011, 16:49 GMT)

Good article. Smith's captaincy was top class as a captain however he is a liability as a batsman. SA need to give opportunity to younger players such as Jonathan Vandiar or Rilee Rossow. Also, they need to make the domestic competition more competitive maybe by involving more foreign players.

Posted by Spelele on (March 27, 2011, 16:23 GMT)

Now the mindless media will invoke the chokers theory all over again. I said it before the WC started and I will say it again; the side that will win the cup will need both skills and luck. Without the latter, its vertually impossible. I would say that if S.A choked, then that contributed ONLY 30% to the result. Amla's dismissal was the most FREAKY in any WC and for it to happen in a crunch Quater-final game was just too unfair to S.A. Duminy's one was a poor shot, but it kept very low; Kallis was unlucky to be caught from one that seemed to be sailing for 6. I could go on and on, the toss was also crucial etc. But all that, just like saying that it was S.A that choked would be taking the credit away from the Kiwis who were obviously awesome! Flawless fielding, coupled with AMAZING luck, was what sealed it in the end. S.A definitely, and rightly so, will not attribute the loss to bad luck because they are talented enough to have defied all those odds. In reality, fate was too good:)

Posted by mits6 on (March 27, 2011, 15:38 GMT)

this SA team has probably more talent than the aussies of last decade , but they never seem unbeatable, probably they lack in self belief and killer instinct that they can do it . I thought the final will be b/w SA and one of asian giants ,but...

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